Covid variant warning: Why UK plans may leave the public ‘somewhat exposed’ to virus mutations

Earlier this year the Government presented its ‘Living with Covid’ strategy which has now removed virtually all of its Covid protections in England. Restrictions such as mandatory self-isolation periods and face coverings for indoor spaces are no longer, and other cost-cutting measures are expected to follow.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is reportedly losing some 800 staff out of its 2,000 workforce, in a bid to cut spending.

The figure would represent a loss of 40% of the body’s workforce, with plans to also suspend routine Covid testing in hospitals and care homes.

Currently, there would only be six months of funding to cover asymptomatic testing in high-risk settings, and senior officials believe it would be best to save it for the return of winter.

Morale at UKHSA – which is led by Dr Jenny Harries – is at an all-time low as staff fear it is not set up to deal with a possible new wave of Covid infections, according to The Guardian.

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In response, the UKHSA said any adjustments to its workforce size would be in line with the government’s Living with Covid strategy and would only affect those on temporary contracts.

Professor Denis Kinane, founding scientist at Cignpost diagnostics, told he was ‘worried’ that the withdrawal of Covid tests from hospitals and care homes would leave England ‘somewhat exposed’ .

The immunologist added that he would be particularly concerned if a worrying new variant emerges or if there is a spike in Covid cases just as vaccine protection begins to wane in the fall.

He said: “Testing for infectivity was a massive protective measure throughout the pandemic and it is exactly these kind of protective measures that allowed the government to strengthen the recall program to protect us when Omicron is arrived in the UK.

“The pandemic is certainly not over yet globally, so we need to remain cautious about what the virus might look like in the future.

“The current failing “zero-Covid” policy in China means that new variants are very likely in the future and the risk of further waves across the world is real, as each new variant tends to be highly contagious and immunologically different. , so that the existing immunity is insufficient, so reinfection highly likely.

“The virus has surprised us every step of the way and may continue to do so.”

Prof Kinane explained that a reduction in asymptomatic testing would ‘likely’ lead to higher infection rates in hospitals and care homes, and would be further ‘exacerbated’ by shortages of lateral flow test (LFT) kits ).

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He added: “We know that vulnerable people with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill when infected with Covid.

“The removal of asymptomatic testing means that those working in hospitals and care homes will unfortunately pose a greater risk to this vulnerable group of people through no fault of their own.”

Asked what action the government should take, Professor Kinane admitted that a balance had to be struck between protecting the most vulnerable while allowing the economy to recover.

But, he said, he would ‘urge the government to think carefully before abandoning all testing under any circumstances’.

The immunologist added that he would “remain cautious” about the spread of Covid for the remainder of 2022.

The risk of “worrying new variants or a sharp peak in the fall” means we are not quite out of the woods yet, he said.

Anyone who thinks they may have symptoms of Covid is still able to test themselves by picking up an LFT from a high street retailer.

For example, a single LFT of Boots will cost you £2. A two-pack costs £3.95 and a combo of five will cost £9.80.